Archive for June, 2009

ludwig 1

by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1972 139m) DVD1/2 (Germany only, no English subs)

Aka. Ludwig – Requiem für einen jüngfraulichen könig

Es ist für kunst

p  Christoph Holch, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg  d/w  Hans-Jürgen Syberberg  ph  Dietrich Lohmann  ed  Peter Przygodda  m  Richard Wagner  cos  Barbara Baum, Chris Wilhelm

Harry Baer (Ludwig II), Ingrid Caven (Lola Montes), Balthasar Thomass (Ludwig as a child), Oska van Schab (Ludwig I/Karl May), Edgar Murray (Kainz/Winnetou), Peter Kern (Lakai Mayr/Ernst Röhm), Gerhard Maerz (Richard Wagner I),

As it so often the case in film history, 1972 saw the release of two major films about the life and times of the fateful final king of Bavaria.  The most readily remembered is the truly epic, typically extravagant piece by Luchino Visconti with Silvana Mangano and Romy Schneider moving funereally between the opulence.  It was unfairly savaged by critics who saw mainly butchered shortened versions, and yet for all that it was still a fractured, disjointed film, a film of stunning moments but a rather lethargic whole. 

            Then we have the truly hypoc-shattering beast of a film from Syberberg.  It was the first in his celebrated German trilogy – films about Karl May and Hitler would follow – and was not a film for the masses.  Yes, it was about Ludwig, but it was also about his father, his father’s mistress Lola Montes, Karl May, Hitler, Wagner, Bismarck, Bavarian tradition, the rise of Germany and, deep down, Syberberg himself.  Though it was the time of the Second Reich, the spectres of the Third justifiably haunt the piece, too.  (more…)

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Bless the Beasts Movie Poster

by Sam Juliano

Today’s review of  Stanley Kramer’s “Bless the Beasts and Children” is the first of a planned series that will examine films from the 1970’s that were either forgotten, undervalued or misunderstood at the time of their release

     Producer/director Stanley Kramer has been the recipient of both glowing praise and outright condemnation from the film community, yet there’s little denying that his fame rests mostly on the former of his two vocations.  Kramer, who passed away at age 87 in 2001, produced a half-dozen Hollywood classics and semi-classics: Champion, Cyrano de Bergerac, High Noon, A Member of the Wedding and The Caine Mutiny.  His direction, which in large measure has centered around the genre of socially-conscious cinema has yielded some well-respected even venerated films like The Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, Judgement at Nuremberg, On the Beach, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Ship of Fools.  His most popular film of all of course is the comedy It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World,(1963) whose title was used for his published autobiography.  The confusion or overlap of Kramer’s dual artistic roles drew wide criticism from the intelligentsia, including David Thomson who declared “Commercialism, of the most crass and confusing kind has devitalised all of his projects.”  Pauline Kael, no less kind, claimed deception when she wrote: “Kramer’s reputation as a great director (was) based on a series of errors.”  Of his late work as helmer, one film, reviled by many upon its release in 1972 stands today as both an moving treatment of its subject and an epitagh to the kind of films Kramer gravitated to through his career. (more…)

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out 1 1

by Allan Fish

(France 1971 776m) not on DVD

Aka. Out 1: Noli Ma Tangere

L’Histoire des Treize

p  Stéphane Tchalgadjief  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Jacques Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman  ph  Pierre William Glenn  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  m  Jean-Pierre Drouet

Jean-Pierre Léaud (Colin), Juliet Berto (Frédérique), Bulle Ogier (Pauline/Emilie), Michèle Moretti (Lili), Michel Lonsdale (Thomas), Françoise Fabian (Lucie), Bernadette Lafont (Sarah), Eric Rohmer (Balzac specialist), Barbet Schroeder (Gian-Reto), Jean Bouise (Warok), Brigitte Roüan (Miss Blandish), Pierre Baillot (Quentin), Hermine Karagheuz (Marie), Karen Puig (Elaine),

It’s the great elusive sangraal to intellectual film buffs, one to give them heebie-jeebies of anticipation even to whisper of it.  Rivette’s ultimate folly, his near thirteen hour opus, has a length that most critics called self-indulgent, but they were perhaps unaware of its history, unaware that it had been intended to be an eight part TV drama (if that’s the right word), but that, due to its very eclectic, undisciplined nature, none of the French TV networks wanted to show it.  He was forced to release it almost in secret, and in the end only released a much shortened, barely four hour version, Out 1: Spectre, a year later.  The title of that shortened version tells you exactly what Rivette though the shorter version was; a ghost of the original, a highlights package of a dream you can’t quite recall.  Even the subtitle to this original version – the French for “hands off!” – tells you everything about Rivette’s plea for his baby.  Please, please, show it uncut. (more…)

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movies and more june 002

by Sam Juliano

    Jean Sibelius’s most popular work is his Symphony No. 2 in D Major, a four-movement masterpiece that at the very least vies with the composer’s nationalistic Finlandia amongst the Finnish composer’s pantheon.  Yet, not until the final “Allegretto moderato” coda does the work evince the same kind of melodic invention and wide appeal that characterized the earlier work.  The composition of the Second marked the culmination of the composer’s early romantic period, a time he was under the thrall of Tchaikovsky, and the flowing melodic line of the work’s denouement, which is actually a series of repeating fragments strung together, provides listeners with one of classical music’s most exquisite (and signature) passages. 

     Concert goers had to wait till the closing minutes to avail themselves of such invigorating sublimity, after hearing a first half that included two works composed by music director/conductor Lorin Maazel in the late 90’s and a brief acknowledgement by New York Philharmonic chairman Paul B. Guenther, who introduced five musicians who are slated to retire at the end of the month after long tenures.  Guenther took an apparently unprovoked poke at the Borough of Brooklyn, stating that it “used to be a hotbed of classical music” in announcing that several of the retirees were born and raised there.  That kind of demeaning cultural elitism is what often prevents this kind of music from reaching those who reside in less ‘privleged’ sections of the city.  A few catcalls from the crowd sent Guenther a clear message. (more…)

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Claire's Knee 1 copy

by Allan Fish

(France 1970 103m) DVD1/2

Aka. Le Genou de Claire

A diplomat’s fetish

p  Pierre Cottrelli  d/w  Eric Rohmer  ph  Nestor Almendros  ed  Cécile Decugis

Jean-Claude Brialy (Jerome), Béatrice Romand (Laura), Aurora Cornu (Aurora), Laurence de Monaghan (Claire), Michèle Montel (Mme.Walter), Gérard Falconetti (Gilles), Fabrice Luchini (Vincent),

Rohmer’s haunting film is perhaps the cinema’s nearest approximation to Proustian discourse” stated Sight & Sound in their review.  Over thirty years later, Raoul Ruiz’s actual adaptation of Proust, Time Regained, may have changed that, but it’s no less accurate a summation as there is something faintly Proustian about proceedings.  The fifth of Rohmer’s six moral tales, Claire’s Knee is a beautifully shot dip into the waters of not only Lake Geneva but the notion of desire itself and how it can manifest itself in the strangest ways.

            Jerome is a 35 year old French diplomat who has returned from Sweden to his childhood town on the shores of Lake Geneva prior to marriage to the unseen Lucinda.  He is met there by a platonic friend, Aurora, who introduces him to the sixteen year old Laura, who develops a crush on him.  But he is equally interested in her half-sister, Claire, who is besotted with a boorish lout of a boyfriend.  Jerome only wants to touch her knee, which becomes the focal point of his desires. (more…)

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picture show 1

by Allan Fish

(USA 1971/1990 127m) DVD1/2

Requiem to the Lion

p  Stephen J.Friedman  d  Peter Bogdanovich  w  Larry McMurtry, Peter Bogdanovich  novel  Larry McMurtry  ph  Robert L.Surtees  ed  Don Cambern  art  Polly Platt, Walter Scott Herndon

Jeff Bridges (Duane Jackson), Timothy Bottoms (Sonny Crawford), Cybill Shepherd (Jacy Farrow), Ben Johnson (Sam the Lion), Cloris Leachman (Ruth Popper), Ellen Burstyn (Lois Farrow), Eileen Brennan (Genevieve), Sam Bottoms (Billy), Sharon Taggart (Charlene Duggs), Jessie Lee Fulton (Miss Mosey), John Hillerman, Clu Galager,

Bogdanovich’s magnum opus is a film that can be hard to categorise.  One of the first adjectives applied to it is “nostalgic”, yet is it really?  Bogdanovich himself deliberately shot it in monochrome so as not to prettify the piece, for the last thing he wanted was a nostalgic work.  Yet in some ways it is nostalgic, but only in the way a dying man hankers after his lost youth.  For in truth the object of Bogdanovich’s camera’s gaze is a dying subject.  A town that is literally on its last legs, yet somehow doesn’t know it.  It’s sort of an anti-Pleasantville and a film to justify Paul Zimmermann’s much quoted eulogy of the film as “the most important work by a young American director since Citizen Kane.”

            In the sleepy Texas town of Anarene, Texas, in 1951, three young teens, soon graduating from high school, undergo romantic and personal tribulations in the summer before moving into adult life.  Two of them, best friends Duane and Sonny, commit their time equally to girls, school sport and the movies, with the latter becoming involved with married older woman Ruth Popper.  Duane’s girlfriend, meanwhile, Jacy, knows she’s the hottest girl in the school and struts around like a cat on heat. (more…)

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Two legends - you can bet your bottom franc that isn't lemonade in that glass

Two legends - you can bet your bottom franc that isn't lemonade in that glass

by Allan Fish

It had been my intention to commemorate numerous centenaries and anniversaries on WitD over the last months, yet time did not permit it.  The centenaries of Burgess Meredith, Dana Andrews, Joseph L.Mankiewicz and James Mason.  I should perhaps mention that of Marcel Carné which falls on 18th August coming.  It’s Mason I regret not paying tribute to, however, in that he was of similar stock, a Northerner, a Yorkshireman from Huddersfield (South Yorkshire, but Yorkshire nonetheless), who indeed spent a few years at school on the shores of Lake Windermere not 10 miles from where I write.  James, above all, if you’re listening, I apologise for the oversight.

This morning, however (well actually as I write the anniversary is coming to an end), is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the son of a Tasmanian University professor, Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn.  I remember Leslie Halliwell entering him rightly in the Hall of Fame for “living several lives in half of one and almost getting away with it.”  Indeed, he only made it halfway to his centenary, dying at the age of 50 but, as the coroner observed, with the body of a man twenty years older.  Through all the charges of statutory rape (rightly dismissed), being a Nazi sympathiser (absolute rubbish!), all the abuses to his body – drink, drugs, women, anything else you care to name, it was perhaps a miracle that he lived even to see 50.  (more…)

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ollie 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 111m) not on DVD

Seduced by sensual delights

p  Robert H.Solo, Ken Russell  d/w  Ken Russell  play  John Whiting  novel  “The Devils of Loudon” by Aldous Huxley  ph  David Watkin  ed  Michael Bradsell  m  Peter Maxwell Davies  art  Robert Cartwright, Derek Jarman

Vanessa Redgrave (Sister Jeanne), Oliver Reed (Fr Grandier), Gemma Jones (Madeleine), Dudley Sutton (Laubardemont), Max Adrian (Ibert), Murray Melvin (Fr Mignon), Michael Gothard (Fr Barre), Georgina Hale (Philippe), Brian Murphy (Adam),

John Trevelyan and his censors, not to mention the Daily Mail morality brigade, were just waiting for a film like this with which to accuse the entire film industry of perversion.  In America, the film was released in a butchered 103m version, so bad that US critics who attacked the film must be forgiven as they didn’t see the proper beast.  Even in the UK, it suffered.  I list the running time as 111m, which in all prints it is, but it should have been around 120m, and of the minutes cut out, by far the most important and controversial was the sequence that came to be known as ‘The Rape of Christ’.  Believed lost, it became, in the words of Mark Kermode, “the Holy Grail of Ken’s black mass.”  How fitting it was then than it was Kermode, the film’s biggest champion as he had been with The Exorcist, who was largely responsible for its recovery.  It hasn’t as yet been reinserted into the film as Warners are digging their heels in and refusing to release a DVD, but armed with an old semi-widescreen VHS and the clip of the Rape of Christ sequence sneakily downloaded off the internet, one can at last get an idea of the film as Ken intended it.  And as Vanessa Redgrave said, “I think every director should have the right to show their film the way they wanted it to be seen.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1972 100m) DVD1

Shake it loose and let it fall…

p  Ray Stark  d  John Huston  w  Leonard Gardner  novel  Leonard Gardner  ph  Conrad L.Hall  ed  Margaret Booth  md  Marvin Hamlisch  art  Richard Sylbert

Stacy Keach (Billy Tully), Jeff Bridges (Ernie Munger), Susan Tyrrell (Oma), Candy Clark (Faye), Nicholas Colosanto (Ruben), Art Aragon (Babe), Curtis Cokes (Earl),

It’s one of the forgotten greats of the seventies.  Perhaps because Huston was not a seventies director, a bit of a fossil from the old days who, as David Thomson observed in ‘Have You Seen?’, hadn’t made a decent film in years.   That’s perhaps part of what drew Huston to this tale.  It’s a film that looks back to past glories, to opportunities lost, to time standing still when actually it’s moving along so fast.  The pre-credit montage says all there is to say about the film; a film that’s like waiting for the funeral to begin. 

            It was set and filmed in Stockton, California, a town that resembles a patient on a Life Support Machine waiting to flatline.  In this dead town all people do is dream of escaping or think of what might have been.  It’s loser central, and one such loser is Billy Tully, a once promising boxer who went to the skids after a failed marriage led to losing his reputation in and out of the ring until he became a drunken bum.  On one of his occasional pie crust promises to himself to get off the wagon he goes to a local gym and spars with a young kid called Ernie Munger, and he sends Ernie off to his old trainer, the kindly Ruben, as he thinks he has something.  Billy tries to get back in shape for another fight and a comeback. (more…)

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straw dogs 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 118m) DVD1/2

Some men goes for women

p  Daniel Melnick  d  Sam Peckinpah  w  David Zelag Goodman, Sam Peckinpah  novel  “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon M.Williams  ph  John Coquillon  ed  Paul Davies, Roger Spottiswoode, Tony Lawson  m  Jerry Fielding  art  Ray Simm, Ken Bridgemann  cos  Tiny Nicholls

Dustin Hoffman (David Sumner), Susan George (Amy Sumner), David Warner (Henry Niles), Peter Vaughan (Tom Hedden), Del Henney (Charlie Venner), Ken Hutchison (Scutt), T.P.McKenna (Maj.Scott), Colin Welland (Rev.Hood), Sally Thomsett (Janice), Jim Norton (Cawsey), Peter Arne, Donald Webster,

Head in a mantrap anyone?  I didn’t think so.  Here’s a film that must really have proved popular with the Cornish tourist board.  Straw Dogs is undoubtedly a film for very strong stomachs, but also one for people with thoughtful minds.  Anyone who sees it as merely an exercise in machismo and violence, sexual and otherwise, are totally missing the point in an alarming way.  At its heart, Peckinpah saw this as an Anglo western, with the homesteaders fighting off cattle barons replaced by a young couple fighting off angry villagers.  It’s a film that provokes an angry response, not just from its central protagonists, but from the audience. 

            Amy Sumner is returning home to her Cornish village to Trencher’s Farm with her American husband, David, a mathematics professor who wants a peaceful climate in which to write a treatise.  At first they are accepted into the community, but Amy’s ex, Charlie, contrives to get David out of the way so that he can rape Amy and, when local mental case Henry Niles accidentally murders a young girl and David steps in to protect him from the angry mob, they besiege his house in a fight to the death. (more…)

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